Interview: with Ronnie Smart
Ronnie Smart is a Scottish-born Kiwi writer, who grew up on a steady diet of horror stories, kung fu movies and Romantic poetry. His work has been published in several publications in NZ and overseas, including Blue Fifth Review and Alluvia. Contact him on Facebook, Twitter or his blog.
There are millions of people around the world with great story ideas, but who never even start to write them down. What drives you to sit down and aim for finished, published stories? For me, there are several motivations. One of these is the desire to do something with all of these tiny flashes of stories that come to me. If I only note down ideas and don’t develop the ones that make me smile or feel excited, I feel incomplete, as if I am not fulfilling my potential as a human being. Plus, some of the good ones will almost certainly wither and die from lack of attention if they remain sealed in my notebook. Another motivation is to be valued for sharing ideas and stories that might not be welcomed in other modes of discourse. And as I’m going to have these ideas anyway, I’d quite like to find an audience that appreciates what I do, so it’s important to remove the distractions and clarify the connections within the writing. Then there might be less people who look at me like a crazy lunatic. But not that I mind really. The world needs more lunatics. The final motivation – at least until I think of several other motivations, anyway – is the ‘that’s crap, I can do better’ mentality. Some popular television programmes and some written works insult people’s intelligence by relying on established norms, or by being overly explicit and repeating their morals and messages. I don’t want people to feel as if they are being force-fed sewage. I want to create something better, because in many cases I can. Of course there is also the desire to constantly improve my skills. I want to be better than yesterday. For this, and for my own personal pleasure, I keep reading and studying my craft.
Published or unpublished, what's the hardest scene you've written? I can’t think of anything in particular. I’m working on a horror story at the moment, but it’s unfinished because I ran into difficulties and decided to work on other pieces and come back to it. I have two versions of the same character from alternate timelines that merge together later, so this makes writing about these characters really confusing in some narrative perspectives. In the background, my mind is mulling over how to clarify which of the two is in control. It’s probably just a matter of changing the mode of narration.
You write poetry as well as fiction. How do you find juggling the two? I don’t think this is a problem. Most of the time, anyway. Sometimes in my notebook I get a line for poetry which, when I start writing more, discovers what it really wants to be is short fiction or flash. Then the line turns into one of these. So, I guess it’s all about listening to what the pieces want to be. But this seldom works the other way around. It is very difficult for me to turn prose into poetry. This is because when I’m writing poetry the sounds come to me first, not ideas or complete sentences.
Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of? Given the increasing popularity of speculative fiction worldwide, it’s very difficult to say which tropes are played out. I used to think that killer clowns were played out, but then recent mass hysteria cases involving clowns made evil clowns popular again in the media , and now there is It. Actually, there are markets for almost anything and major trends run in cycles. So in horror, tastes run from pulp scream fests to dark literary fiction. I like a variety of genres in this field. I think a lot of tropes die a natural death and then are reborn in new forms. This isn’t a bad thing. Old boots can be comfortable; good storytellers can take up old stories and make them new. However, what I dislike is laziness. For example, if you create something, you shouldn’t rely on stereotypes. Characters need reasons for behaving the way that they do. However, in some stories, novels and TV scripts, some main characters are not developed beyond stereotypes and are used simply as mouthpieces for the political or religious beliefs of the writers. This is about as much fun for me as trying to head-butt a nail into a concrete wall. Also, if you work with established tropes, it’s important to use them in original ways or at least do something different with them. For example, Andrzej Sapkowski, who created the Witcher novels, uses the established fantasy races of elves and dwarves to deal with themes of prejudice and racism in a believable way. I guess anything could work, as long as it is done with thought, skill or originality. In specific terms of what I’d like to see more of, I was really impressed by Ian Roger’s story Eyes like Poisoned Wells in the Joe Hill edition of Cemetery Dance. It’s kind of a blend of noir fiction and extradimensional horror. I hadn’t been exposed much to his writing before and had no idea what to expect. I’d love to read more writing like this.
What books are beside your bed right now? Immediately by my head is a Kindle with Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray’s Hounds of the Underworld on it, along with Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Under the Kindle is the latest issue of the British dark fiction magazine Black Static. I’ve got two other stacks of books on the bedside cabinet and one above it. The piles of books include: The Stories of Ray Bradbury, The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, The Fireman by Joe Hill, and Prince Lestat by Anne Rice. Piled near that are the two most recent issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and two Neil Gaiman books: Stardust and Norse Mythology. I’ve finished most of the novels actually, apart from Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, and Norse Mythology (which I’m reading to my daughter a bit at a time as a bedtime story). I don’t really have a problem with so many books around me. They sometimes whisper to me after I turn the lights off, before I go to sleep.